Heroin is an opioid derived from the opium poppy flower. Due to it’s chemical structure, it is rapidly absorbed into the brain, which makes it highly addictive. Depending on how it is processed, it ranges from a thick sticky “black tar” to a brown, tan, or white powder. Users can inject, inhale or smoke heroin.

Other Names:

Dope, Smack, H, Junk, Skag, Snow, Horse, China white, Brown, Beast, Hero

How Does It Affect Your System?

Heroin belongs to the opioid class of drugs. Opioids work by attaching to and activating opioid receptors throughout the body. When someone uses heroin, it activates opioid receptors in the brain which ultimately results in altered pain perception and a rush of rewarding, euphoric feelings. An accompanying surge of dopamine in the brain reward center reinforces continued heroin use — often compelling the heroin user to want more of this drug and crave experiencing its high again and again.

What Are The Symptoms & Risk

People suffering from heroin addiction may exhibit certain tell-tale signs of their drug abuse. Some of signs and symptoms associated with heroin are physical, while others are more emotional or behavioral. The effects of heroin abuse can result in physical signs such as:

Small “pinpoint” pupils.
Intermittent sleepiness (e.g., periodic ‘nodding off’).
Track marks, scabs, or sores on skin.
Nosebleeds (if they snort heroin).
Cough (if they are smoking heroin).

People who are using heroin may sometimes experience malnutrition and unhealthy weight loss. They may be secretive about their drug use behavior (e.g., they may start to wear long pants and sleeves to conceal their track marks).

Heroin can have many negative effects on a person’s mental and physical health. The short-term effects of heroin use can include:

A euphoric rush or high.
Dry mouth.
Respiratory depression.
Nausea and vomiting.
People who regularly use heroin are also at risk for developing long-term effects of heroin use, including the physical symptoms of heroin addiction, such as:

Chronic insomnia.
Lung, kidney, and liver disease.
Endocrine related issues such as sexual dysfunction and menstrual irregularities.
Increased risk of mental health issues such as depression.
Cumulatively elevated risk of respiratory depression and overdose death.
People who inject heroin also have an increased risk of developing the following health issues:

Heart infections.
Skin abscesses.

Those using heroin may own drug paraphernalia, or items that they use to ingest heroin in some form, such as needles or pipes. People who become addicted to heroin may also become depressed or develop antisocial personality traits.

After a sustained period of use, someone may develop significant opioid dependence. When someone has become physically dependent upon any substance, it means that their brain has adjusted to regularly having a certain level of this substance in their system. When someone who is dependent upon heroin stops using this drug, they may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

In addition to developing opioid dependence, people who use heroin commonly build significant opioid tolerance, meaning that increasingly large or more frequent doses of heroin may be needed for them to experience the sought after high.

This can be dangerous for many reasons: First, the more often someone uses heroin, and the more heroin they use, the more likely they are to overdose. Second, people who may have started smoking or snorting heroin may be prompted to start injecting the drug to more quickly elicit an intense high. Intravenous heroin use can also lead to overdose, but may also increase the risk of skin infections, certain cardiovascular issues, as well as various blood borne illnesses, such as HIV.

Detoxing Symptoms (Withdrawl)

Withdrawal from heroin and other opioids is rarely associated with life-threatening complications, enduring the sometimes markedly unpleasant symptoms can present unnecessary challenges to recovery. The mere discomfort of withdrawal—which some describe as mimicking the flu— can lead to immense physical and psychological distress. Left unmanaged, opioid withdrawal can easily drive someone toward immediate relapse, which can derail recovery attempts. Acute opioid withdrawal syndrome may include several characteristic symptoms, such as:

Nervousness or anxiety.
Trouble sleeping.
Frequent yawning.
Flu-like symptoms.
Hot and cold flashes.
Runny nose.
Excessive sweating.
Muscle cramps/body aches.

Heroin detox can last on average between 5 to 10 days in total.

Detoxing Safely

Several medications may be used to help treat people with opioid use disorders. These medications may lower someone’s risk of relapse and increase abstinence rates in people who are in recovery from heroin addiction.

Opioid agonist medications can be used to stabilize someone experiencing heroin withdrawal and also help to maintain someone through a longer-term recovery period by diminishing cravings and other unpleasant symptoms.

Two medications widely used in the treatment of heroin and other opioid addictions are methadone and buprenorphine.

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